It’s staring us in the face. July 2016 was the hottest month that we’ve ever recorded. The scientists have already foretold when the seas are going to rise, and their projections state that finite energy sources will be exhausted before the end of this century. As we look forward, hard numbers are written in front of us and create an inevitable future.
Lamphouse theatre’s Generation Zero begins to ask how we will cope after climate change: politics, guilt, relationships, and love are all examined in this new context. A poised script by Beckie Owen-Fisher powerfully achieves its goals by offering an original and tender depiction, executed beautifully under the direction of Tom Fox.
The piece begins with a man and a woman meeting. They bond over a shared love of Enid Blyton books. Their relationship quickly progresses, with Owen-Fisher’s ability to write elegant dialogue being on full display. Yet, the character’s everyday discourse also harbours mentions of a gas allowance and a mandatory emissions-reducing travel cap. Meanwhile, the man and woman always wear matching outfits, which at first suggests an innate compatibility, but later quietly hints at something more like a uniform.
The woman soon learns that those watercolour worlds of Enid Blyton no longer hold true: nature has been ruined, contorted and pulled apart by power lines and pylons. She joins an action group, becomes set with stimulating change, and begins to withdraw gradually from an increasingly suspecting boyfriend and audience. The angered male is approached by an anonymous voice, who urges him to collect the plans and secrets of his partner’s action group.
Climate change is framed therefore as a further splitting of the political and non-political classes, as something that will worsen the personal situations of each of us. This depiction is very smart and brings a required immediacy to the cause. Further, Lamphouse theatre have designed an effective staging for the play that stresses the domesticity and human aspects amongst the political. The thrust stage is lined with florescent tubes, which has been softly diffused with sheets and pillows. Both Jordan Turk and Francesca Dolan deserve high praise for their portrayal of the characters. Particularly innovative was how the production dealt with conversations by emails and texts: “Buzz.” “Check phone.” Followed by a spoken delivery of the message.
Yet, I feel there were a couple of missteps. The playwright appears to be striving for a balance between creating a subtle and sophisticated production, while also attempting to drive the audience of their script to action. There are a couple of occasions when this balance is misjudged: one section which explicitly cites the recent Norfolk whale beachings feels too direct. The anonymous voice device is perhaps too reliant on the generic tropes of dystopian fiction, and threatens to reduce the plot and simplify the greater sophistication of the work.
Yet, Generation Zero is a smart, touching and deeply considered drama. It finds itself amongst other recent works that combine environmentalism with personal and political dramas – Ruth Ozeki’s American Book Award winner *All Over Creation* came to mind after seeing the play. These works show how everything we recognise is being threatened and can only be too easily undercut. They’re whispering in our ears and they’re telling us to act before it’s too late. Do you hear them?
Generation Zero runs at ZOO Southside every day at 2:15PM until August 29th.
Image courtesy of Drew Avery